Union Tribune

November 15, 2002

Toll road won't be exempt from state laws | Boxer, Feinstein
get provision cut from bill


TOBY ECKERT
Copley News Service



WASHINGTON -- California's two U.S. senators recently blocked a move to exempt from state laws part of a controversial Orange County toll road that could cross into North County.

Language that would have granted the exemption to the proposed Foothill South Extension was stripped from a defense authorization bill at the request of Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

A route favored by proponents of the project, which would connect the SR 241 Toll Road to Interstate 5 in the San Clemente area, would go through parts of San Onofre State Beach Park and Camp Pendleton. Both are federal property, with the state leasing the beach parkland from the federal government.

Supporters of the route fear the California Legislature will restrict
the construction of roads through state parks and sought the federal exemption.

The toll road project is opposed by environmentalists and has drawn the concern of the Marine Corps commandant, aides to Boxer and Feinstein said.

"It would have impacts on some of Southern California's last remaining open spaces, including habitat for a number of endangered species," the senators said in a joint letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Serious questions also remain about the need for the road and the economic sensibility of the project.

"All of these factors should be considered under California's existing
health, safety, transportation, labor, and environmental laws," they
said.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies, which operate Orange County's public toll road system, sought the exemption.

"Our concern was that the state Legislature . . . could have precluded us from keeping all of our options open. We intend to comply with all state and federal regulations," said Clare Climaco, a spokeswoman for the agencies.

The exemption was favored by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Calvert wants to help ease traffic congestion in the region, an aide said.

But the language was dropped from the defense legislation during
negotiations between the House and Senate. The bill was sent to
President Bush for his signature Wednesday.

Several routes are being considered for the 16-mile Foothill South
Extension. But the route preferred by proponents would go through San Onofre State Beach and Camp Pendleton.

Climaco said the route would pass through an inland part of the beach park.

The Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation, both environmental groups, are opposed to the plan.

In their letter, Feinstein and Boxer said the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. J.L. Jones, also "has expressed concerns that this road will unduly encroach upon operations at Camp Pendleton and undermine military readiness."

In a letter to the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the commandant wrote that the road alignments under consideration would "have a detrimental impact that is unacceptable on the ability of Camp Pendleton to carry out its training mission," the senators said.

Climaco said the toll-road agency is working with the Marine Corps to ensure there would be "no impact on their ability to conduct military exercises."

A Marine Corps representative could not be reached for comment.